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Bad news buzz returns - West Nile virus found in Brooklyn once more

Call it revenge of the skeeter.

City officials announced last week that more and more mosquito pools in the borough have tested positive for the West Nile virus, making Brooklyn a prime target for the dreaded disease.

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene statistics show that ten mosquito pools had tested positive for the virus this month – five times more than the two pools that showed indications of the disease last year.

Recent results are even more dire than 2006’s numbers, which saw one of the worst recurrences of the West Nile virus in the last few years, officials said. That year, six tested pools showed indications of the disease.

Despite the jump, results in Brooklyn lag behind Queens and Staten Island, which saw 62 and 41 mosquito pools with signs of the West Nile virus, respectively.

While the city has spent most of the summer focusing their attentions on those two boroughs, officials last week began conducting spraying and aerial larviciding in parts of Canarsie, the Paerdegat Basin, Georgetown, Flatlands, East Flatbush, Mill Basin and Bergen Beach, where the disease has been found.

As of this writing, additional spraying hasn’t been authorized.

“Right now we’re just spraying where we’re seeing more and more mosquitoes testing positive for the disease, which is mostly in the marsh land areas,” a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said. “[The spraying] is based on a specific criteria based on where the infected mosquitoes are going. We’re taking pro-active steps to reduce the infected mosquito activity and lower the risk of anyone contracting the disease.”

So far this year, there have been no cases of humans contracting the disease.

Eighteen people contracted West Nile last year, with the first case being detected in August, officials said.

Since 1999, 180 people across the five boroughs have contracted West Nile virus, which in extreme cases causes encephalitis, a deadly inflammation of the brain.

Roughly 30 of the residents who contracted the disease lived in Brooklyn, officials said.

The most susceptible to the disease – which has been blamed for 23 deaths citywide over the last nine years — are senior citizens, the median age of infection being 69, according to city records.

While epidemiologists combat the virus in the lab, city officials are encouraging residents to protect themselves from mosquito bites, which is how the disease is transmitted.

“One must reduce their risk of the getting the West Nile virus,” explained Dr. Thomas Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. “Wear mosquito repellent whenever you are outdoors and long sleeves and pants in the morning or evening.”

“New Yorkers over 50 years old need to be especially careful because they are most likely to suffer serious illness or death if they contract the virus,” he said.

Residents are also being asked to rid their property of stagnant pools of water, where mosquitoes breed.

“People should avoid having standing water on their properties, from their roof gutters to their pet’s old water dishes,” a Department of Health spokesperson added.

With standing water being a major factor in the disease’s expansion, some believe that the disease has hit record proportions this year because – of all things – the housing foreclosure crisis the city is facing.

Foreclosed homes are abandoned homes with untended back yards that could have large pools of standing water in them – a breeding playground for members of the Culidae insect family.

“This may be a sign of the times,” Dr. Alton Barron of New York’s Roosevelt Hospital Center recently explained on the Today Show, “as more and more homes are passing into foreclosure and many of those homes have backyard pools that are not being maintained. This can become a ripe feeding ground and breeding ground for these mosquito populations.”

Anyone wishing to learn more about how to combat the West Nile virus can contact 311 or log onto http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh.

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